In the coming days, the Grey Bruce Health Unit will be releasing an order requiring the public to wear face coverings in public, indoor spaces.
According to a news release issued today, the order will take effect three days after the province moves into stage three reopening.
The Medical Officer of Health Order will require face coverings be used by employees and customers in public spaces and businesses. The order is being issued under authorities granted in the Health Protection and Promotion Act.
“This is only indoors and only where there is public traffic,” says Dr. Ian Arra, medical officer of health for Grey Bruce Health Unit.
The health unit is currently formatting the appropriate wording for the order, which Arra says will be in place for a limited number of weeks.
“Hopefully we can ensure this order will serve the public in a way that is going to be least intrusive,” he says.
The order is being prepared in consultation with affected stakeholders, including members of local government, police, fire and business partners.
Arra explains there are three mechanisms that the health unit can utilize to enforce the public to wear face coverings – a MOH order, bylaw or a letter to employers.
“A bylaw will take a certain number of weeks to pass. A MOH order is more timely. So, that is where we will start and then move to either a letter or a bylaw and depending on the state of provincial regulations in the third stage,” Arra says.
The MOH order will include exemptions for those who can not tolerate a mask due to age or health conditions. Specifically, children under two years old will not have to wear masks, and children under five who are unable to tolerate them are also exempt. The order will exempt for any reason under the Human Rights Code.
“This policy or order will be based on good faith. There is no burden of truth. A person would not need a note from a physician to not wear a mask,” he says.
Arra adds that the order will not see any active enforcement measures unless a problem were to arise.
“The most important part for the public to remember is what carried us through [the pandemic] was the interventions that are still in place,” says Dr. Arra. “We are not out of the woods yet.”
Arra stresses that it is important for the public to understand, wearing a face mask or covering is not a replacement for other mitigation measures but instead should be used in combination with them.
“Washing hands, ensuring the two-metre distance, screening for symptoms – these things are essential to continue,” he adds.
Arra says he would like the public to think of the MOH order or bylaw regarding face coverings as a tool for employers and workplaces that will help them ensure employees and customers are safe.
“It is not meant to penalize the public or infringe on liberty,” Arra says.
“Enforcement would likely only occur if, for example, there were an outbreak in a workplace, we would be able to enforce the policy, if the business was not enforcing it,” he says, adding that, so far, the health unit has seen great co-operation and compliance from local business owners.
Other health units, including Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, are issuing similar orders under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. Orders issued under that act are only in effect for as long as the province remains in a state of emergency.
Dr. Arra’s order under the Health Protection and Promotion Act is not contingent on a provincial state of emergency.